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Thursday, November 23, 2017 
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Rabbit Songs
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Even though it sounds like the kind of album that could launch a thousand "Dawson's Creek" musical montages, Rabbit Songs is nevertheless a beautiful record. (Not that the "Dawson's Creek" reference is intended as a slight — sometimes the show has featured pretty decent artists, a la Low and Mark Kozelek.)

Nevertheless, at the mention of youth-drama montage scenes, some top-10 heart-yanking-sentiment peddler or Teenage Contemporary bore will likely spring to people's minds. Hem, mercifully, are not within kissing distance of either sound. It's just that their folky warmth and richly-toned American sweetness call forth a bundle of emotions with an economy and resonant sincerity the "Dawson's Creek" folk would probably die to conjure up.

Pretty, doleful, and likely to leave you flushed with evangelical loyalty, Hem's soft-glow, acoustic sound is kindled by the creaky flare of strings, gentle piano tremors and pedal-steel flourishes. This is not to forget Sally Ellyson's fire-warm voice, which conveys melancholy, reassurance and nostalgia with a rich ease. Surprisingly, Ellyson had never sung before joining Hem (and her initiation into the band was via some lullabies she left on the founding members' answering machine — hence the inclusion of "Lord, Blow Out the Moon Please" on Rabbit Songs).

And while it was the spare and bittersweet tunefulness of "Betting on Trains" that initially lured me to Hem, Rabbit Songs has many other highlights: "Lazy Eye," "Half Acre," "When I Was Drinking," and the upbeat charm of "Stupid Mouth Shut." Their tunes have a sad-eyed country introspection. Their lyrics highlight the nervousness of having your heart fixed on a local love ("'Cuz the sidewalk bends where your house ends/ Like the neighborhood is on its knees"), as well as old homes and unromantic memories of alcohol-withered times: "Twelve bars behind us/ And 12 bars to go/ Bottles of beer lined up in a row/ One for each hour you didn't show/ You and me dying every day/ Getting high just to pass away/ But that's not the reason I couldn't stay with you..../ But I'll raise a glass now to you and me/ To lift me higher so I can see/ Which of these blessings are killing me."

A blessing itself, Rabbit Songs luckily isn't lethal — just a pretty album with both AM radio charm and indie allure.


by Lee Tran Lam




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